Argos-Roughriders showdown divides Maple Leafs dressing room

Sportsnet's Donnovan Bennett recently sat down with Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock to discuss his life-long love of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and how proud he is to come from the province.

On paper, Sunday is an off-day for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there’s still a big game that concerns them.

The Toronto Argonauts host the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the right to play in the Grey Cup.

“Huge. I’ll be there with bells on,” said Mike Babcock.

The Leafs head coach has been no stranger to BMO Field of late, as he was spotted taking in Toronto FC’s playoff match versus the New York Red Bulls on Nov 5. Babcock grew up in Saskatoon and bleeds Rider green.

“I’ll have my jersey out. I even told [chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment] Larry Tanenbaum, ‘I know we own the other team, but the Green Riders have been my team forever,’ ” Babcock said. “My daughter’s coming in for the game. We’re looking forward to going and hope it’s not too cold.”

That Babcock, a 54-year-old from the Prairies, is a CFL supporter makes sense. More surprising is the millennial Leaf who will be rooting for the Argos.

Mitch Marner, who grew up in Thornhill, Ont., got turned onto the Argonauts this summer. He was invited to a few games by a friend, had a blast, and kept returning. The move to BMO makes for a better atmosphere, he figures.

“This city loves its teams, no matter what team it is, no matter what sport it is,” Marner told the Toronto Star this fall. “It’s important for all our athletes to show one another love. It’s a great city. We’re all lucky to be here.”

Marner, 20, struck a quick friendship with running back James Wilder Jr. and quarterback Ricky Ray. He’s been vocalizing his support for the East Final favourites on his Twitter account throughout the season.

“I grew tight with a couple of them on the team, and obviously it’s great seeing what they’re doing right now,” Marner said. “It’s going to be exciting Sunday.

“I think I’m gonna go. I’m just trying to find a group of friends that are around. A lot of my buddies are in school right now, so I’m trying to get a group to go celebrate their win.”

Marner’s linemate, Tyler Bozak, was born and raised in Regina. He teased that he and Marner might have to toss a little money on the game.

“Growing up in Sask, the Riders are a pretty big deal,” Bozak said. “I know it’s a big game Sunday, and we actually may be able to go to it, so I’ll get a little wager going with Mitchy.”

Count Marner in on the bet.

“We’ve set one,” smiled Marner, refusing to disclose the sum. “It’s gonna be nice when he pays me. There’s no doubting the Argos are gonna win.

“It’s going to be nice to text him after and say, ‘Thanks.’ ”

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